State defunds Rhode Island’s ONLY Syringe Exchange Program
AIDS Care Ocean State lost $65,000 in funding that will prevent over 50,000 plus needles from being disposed of properly, due to state’s 2016-17 Rhode Island’s legislative grant process.
In July of 2016 AIDS Care Ocean State’s (ACOS) funding was not renewed by Rhode Island’s Legislative grants causing an elimination of $65,000 in HIV prevention funding to our ENCORE (ENCORE: Education, Needle-exchange, Counseling, Outreach, and Referrals) program from the state of Rhode Island’s Legislative grants. ENCORE is the ONLY program in the state of Rhode Island that provides comprehensive, holistic, resources and harm reduction services, including syringe exchange, drop off and disposal for intravenous drug users. The original grant created through legislation was sponsored by Representative Eileen S. Naughton of Warwick.
ACOS has reached out to our local elected officials; Governor, Gina Raimondo, Speaker of the House, Nicholas Mattiello, and President of the Senate, M. Teresa Paiva Weed. At this time none of these officials have responded to validate our concerns and recognize what a significant loss this will be to our community. With letters of support from healthcare providers, community advocates, local authorities, and the community at large we are strongly urging our elected officials to reconsider, reallocate and rededicate the necessary funding to ensure this program is able to continue without an interruption in ENCORE’s funding stream to ensure we are not putting members of our most vulnerable communities at risk.
Currently there are efforts being put forth by The RI Medicaid Office, The Executive Office of Health and Human Services and the RI Department of Health to research any possible sources of funding. These efforts and support are encouraging and very much appreciated by ACOS, however at this time funding has not been secured.
ENCORE has been established since 1994. Since ACOS has been the leading advocate on the front line for the past twenty-two years, committed to providing our most vulnerable community members with adequate resources. In a time where the stigma of HIV/AIDS was a death sentence to those infected, we as an organization ensured EVERY community member received the same respect and encouragement they deserved.
Our ENCORE team travels to several areas in Rhode Island and can be identified by their signature, yellow, ENCORE backpacks. Our syringe exchange workers require specialized training and work with populations most at risk with contracting HIV and Hepatitis C.
The results are clear – AIDS Care Ocean State’s ENCORE program saves lives.
Through long lasting community relationships, we ensure each of our clients desiring treatment for their substance use are referred to one or more of our partners in care. Partners include, but are not limited to CODAC, Discovery House (Woonsocket/Providence) and Anchor Recovery.
Statewide data has shown that with the introduction of our outreach team’s initiatives surrounding syringe exchange, there has been a significant drop in new HIV/HCV infections by intravenous drug users. New HIV infection rates have dropped from 17% when the program was created to 4% through 2013 and another drop to 1% in 2015.
Throughout 2015 ACOS provided services to 318 individuals, 107 new clients were enrolled in the syringe exchange/harm reduction program. ACOS saw 780 returning clients and the total clients served in the exchange group was 944 (this includes returning clients exchanging for their friends and family, secondary exchange). Clean syringes distributed in 2015 totaled 57,783 and 43,808 were collected.
This means that 43,808 used syringes were not discarded on our streets, in our parks, allowed to wash up on our state’s beautiful beaches and potentially jeopardize the welfare of our community
In addition to being the ONLY program in Rhode Island that offers syringe exchange, disposal of used syringes, ENCORE guarantees those who are most in need in our community access to front line intervention, access to care, mental health and addiction counseling, free, anonymous, confidential HIV testing, Hep C testing, and so much more. ENCORE’s outreach workers also distribute and train individuals on how to administer NARCAN, the lifesaving drug used in an opioid overdose. ACOS & ENCORE reach the following communities: Providence, Woonsocket, Newport, Pawtucket and Central Falls. New target locations in Narragansett and Westerly are currently underway for 2016.
In 2015 February thru December, ACOS distributed 108 kits of NARCAN (2 doses per kit- =216 doses) to 83 unique individuals. Naloxone, sold under the brand name NARCAN among others, is a medication used to block the effects of opioids, especially in overdose. Naloxone can be administered intravenously, intramuscularly, and nasally and begins to reverse symptoms of an opiate overdose in as little as 2 minutes. NARCAN kits allow friends and family members of opiate users to provide immediate assistance in overdose situations. Of the 83 clients that received NARCAN kits, 56% were female and 44% were male. 57% stated that they previously overdosed.
Through successful training by ENCORE staff, it was reported, that NARCAN was administered to 25 individuals during an opiate overdose, providing lifesaving treatment.
The requested renewal of $65,000 was strictly in place to cover the cost of supplies. This includes nearly 60,000 syringes we distribute every year, disposal of more than 40,000 used syringes, alcohol swabs, band-aids and our NARCAN kits which keep members of our community alive in the event of an opioid overdose. In order to provide rapid testing, the program needs lancets, spot band-aids, sharps containers and an increase in biohazard waste removal.
This decision to cut funding has jeopardized our community’s safety. ENCORE has established itself as the leading provider of support within Rhode Island. We work diligently with local health care providers, local police departments, and peer advocates, and have become the standard of care amongst these groups.
We encourage our supporters to reach out to Governor Gina Raimondo (email@example.com) and Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (firstname.lastname@example.org) and remind them how important Rhode Island's ONLY Syringe Exchange is to the health and well-being of our state. AIDSCareOS.org